by Ken Sehested
“He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars.”
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When people of faith speak of God, and how the love of God leads to the flourishing of souls and soil alike, such language appears on the surface as something being done to us, as from the outside.
Merely being acted upon—being objectified—hints at coercion, manipulation, feeble dependency, indignity. As if we are to be kept in chains and, moreover, taught to love those chains—lovely as they may appear, but chains, nonetheless. As if we are merely utensils in a cosmic drama. As if we are chess pieces on a divine board game.
Such is not the case. Think of a time lapse video of a flower blooming, first in one layer, then another, then another, and yet another—as if from out of thin air. Prior to this there was merely a tiny bud. Pleasant enough, but without the slightest indication of what was to come—as if from nowhere, as if from outside and beyond and super-natural. As if being infused with what, originally, was not there.
Human life thrives only when surrounded by fertile humus, enriched soil generating life from decomposition. The fallen leaf does not regret its demise.
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“No matter how much one may love the world as a whole,
one can live fully in it only my living responsibly in some small part of it.”
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The Blessed One is not the author and enforcer of transcendent patterns of creaturely co-dependency. The Gracious Host is not a giant Self, demanding subservience from petitioners. The Merciful One is not obsessive and in need of constant homage and ovation as a guarantee of kindly attention.
Rather, as mystics write, creaturely blooming is a growing into God and God into all.
Apotheosis—a growing into God—is the word used in Eastern Christian traditions. Frequently in Paul’s writing, the Apostle speaks of growing into Christ and being “filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19). Or as Peter wrote, we are called to “become participants of the divine nature” (1:4).
Such language is fragile and risky and easily manipulated, because it hints that creatures may thereby strap on the glory of the Creator and be freed to wield power to reorder the world in self-aggrandizing ways.
Right: Linocut art by Julie Lonneman
Does a self/soul even survive the Spirit’s transforming fire? Yes, and no.
Yes, understood developmentally, in history’s time and space, the self that is in Christ expands, step by gradual step, to include ever-larger circles of communion with others—even, potentially, with enemies. It’s not so much a matter of denying the self but a relaxing and uncoiling of the self. The self-forgetfulness that grows is not a self-debasement. Rather, it is like the bud’s tilt toward the sun’s radiance; like the arousal of the loved to the Lover.
No, however, if the self means the continued existence of a sniveling, whining ego needing constant assurance and reinforcement of its own value and performance. Such a self demands that if I’m special, you must be less so. Being self-possessed is, by definition, being separated from the Love that binds each to all without definition, degree, merit, or measure.
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“Hope is the ordinary things you stubbornly do every day!”
—Mitri Raheb, Palestinian pastor
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Because we humans, at least occasionally, require reassurance, comfort, and encouragement, we assume the same for the Beloved, creation’s author. And thus our worship becomes a form of commerce, offering bribes in exchange for blessing, compliments in return for security safeguards. And when God’s honor is at stake, we assume retribution, including bloodletting, is a sacred duty.
The annulment of such duty was accomplished in the cross, confirmed in the resurrection, and kindled at Pentecost. For people of The Way, swords have become plowshares in preparation for the bountiful harvest of peace, sown in justice, and ripened in mercy.
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“I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty
to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble.”
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It is in these days after Pentecost, Ordinary Time in the church’s calendar, that dreams are molded into deeds, that vision is mirrored in befriending habits, that yeast is unleashed, that struggle is ensued and peace is waged. The daily duties of covenant-keeping, the menial acts of fidelity, the chaste response to aggravating speech, the refusal of silence in the face of abuse, the encouraging word to the forlorn and offended—these are among the beads of your rosary. Pray it even on faltering days and throughout restless nights.
Notice the unnoticed. Choose the less lovely for a dance partner. Keep your eyes shielded from shiny baubles, your ears from the marketer’s lure. Proclaim honor in the land of disrepute. Approach all your quotidian duties in the knowledge that future blossoms begin as dirt-covered seedlings jostling amid the mire.
Live the unvarnished life, susceptible neither to flattery nor mockery.
Remember: there is no secular space or time; only sacred or desecrated. Train your eyes to spot reverential clues among sullied clutter.
Acclaim the unadorned season. Give praise to Ordinary Days.
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“A saint is simply a human being whose soul has . . . grown up to its full stature,
by full and generous response to its environment, God.”
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